Dr. Cali Estes - The Addiction Coach ®

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How Does Parental Substance Abuse Affect Children?

Childhood is a time of innocence and wonder. However, it is not uncommon for children to grow up in homes with parents who abuse substances. Children are not able to make the decision on whether they want to live in a home where their parent abuses drugs, but this does not mean that the child’s life will be easy or unaffected by what goes on at home. This post discusses how parental substance abuse affects children and much more.

What is parental substance abuse?

Parental substance abuse is defined as the use of psychoactive substances (including alcohol and illicit drugs) by parents or caregivers for non-therapeutic purposes during their role as a parent.

Parental substance abuse includes any form of drug or alcohol use within the family. The prevalence rate of substance abuse among parents ranges from 2-5%, which means that in a population of 100 adults, two to five have a problem related to drug or alcohol use.

How does it affect children?

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF), parental substance abuse has a direct adverse effect on children. Children are affected by parental substance abuse in various ways, depending on the type of drug used, the frequency and amount that is consumed.

Children who have parents with substance abuse problems are at risk of developing health issues themselves. They are also more likely to face physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, and developmental problems.

Children who live in homes with high levels of parental substance abuse are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol themselves when they reach adolescence, which makes prevention is very important in order to avoid this problem in the future.

In addition, parental substance abuse can lead to family violence, which is a serious threat to children’s health. In the United States, there are 1.8 million victims of child maltreatment related to their parent’s alcohol or drug use.

Signs of parental substance abuse

The presence of drugs or alcohol inside the home

  1. Change of behaviour in parents or other family members
  2. Being on high alert, too passive or too difficult for no reason
  3. Any physical injury that cannot be explained by accident; injuries caused by fights, neglect, etc.
  4. Behavioural problems in children such as aggressiveness, anxiety, and depression
  5. Changes in the child’s school performance or grades
  6. Truancy or tardiness to school
  7. Frequent conflicts with teachers
  8. Lack of interest in extracurricular activities
  9. Unexplained financial problems

Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on the Child

According to ACF, there is a strong relationship between parental substance abuse and child maltreatment. Parents’ use of drugs or alcohol can increase the likelihood that they will physically punish their children.

Additionally, parents who are under the influence of substances are more likely to neglect their children, which means that they are not meeting the child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter.

Children of alcoholic parents are more likely to experience emotional problems like anxiety and depression, while those who live in homes where methamphetamine is being used have a higher risk of developing psychotic symptoms.

Treatment options for parents going through a substance use disorder

  1. Medication-Assisted Treatment – The most effective treatment option available today is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which is used to treat opioid use disorders. MAT includes the use of methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids. This type of treatment also helps with depressive symptoms, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.
  2. Addiction recovery coaching– During the early stages of addiction, a person might be able to quit using drugs or alcohol without professional help. However, when a drug use disorder is left untreated, it can have serious consequences on the parent’s life and family dynamics. Therefore, in addition to an extensive treatment plan that includes medication and therapy, parental substance abuse requires professional coaching in order to overcome denial and establish the right mindset to work toward long-term sobriety. Thus, it is a good idea to connect with a sobriety coach.
  3. Family therapy– Another option is family therapy, which is aimed at helping children who are affected by parental substance abuse. Family therapy aims to help the child feel comfortable with the family dynamics, cooperate with their parents, and successfully develop new coping strategies to deal with difficult situations.
  4. Detoxification or ‘detox’ treatment is also an option for those who need to detox. Detoxification is the process of removing all drugs or alcohol from your body within a short period of time under medical supervision.
  5. Cognitive-behavioral approaches– This type of treatment is focused on providing practical strategies to help individuals cope with problems. In the case of parental substance abuse, this type of therapy focuses on teaching parents how to avoid high-risk situations and the triggers that lead them to use drugs or alcohol in order to prevent a relapse in the future.
  6. Contingency management– This type of treatment uses incentives to motivate people to stick with their goals. Here, parents are rewarded for adhering to the treatment plan and using the coping strategies they have developed through counselling.
  7. Twelve-step programs – This kind of support program is based on self-help groups that follow a set of principles outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs provide encouragement, support and advice to parents who are trying to overcome addiction problems.
  8. Sober companies – This type of treatment is given to parents on a voluntary basis by those who have been through the recovery process themselves. The goal of this therapy is to help parents develop strategies that will reduce their cravings for substances and improve their coping skills and the ability for self-reflection.
  9. Life coaching– This type of treatment helps parents develop their personal strengths to improve their life situations.  It is also aimed at maintaining motivation, commitment, integrity, and positive attitudes. This is a really good substance abuse therapy.
  10. Concierge Private Addiction Retreat– In this type of treatment, parents are accompanied during their recovery process by a team of professionals from the medical field as well as those who have been through similar experiences with addiction.

Treatment for parental substance abuse is available and can make a difference in families’ lives. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all treatments work for everybody, and it is important to find the option that best suits their situation.

Prevention methods to avoid becoming a victim of parental substance abuse

  1. Open communication– It is important to be open with your children in regard to your situation. If you are not able to talk about it, seek support from friends and family members who may be able to help connect you with resources that can answer any questions or concerns that they have about the physical or mental health of their parents.
  2. Taking good care of yourself– Parents with substance abuse problems often put themselves last in their life priorities. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you develop good health habits, such as eating right and exercising regularly, in order to keep your body healthy and ready to take care of your children.
  3. Creating a support network– It is also important to reach out and get support from others, especially when you need help or advice about parental substance abuse. This could be the case if you have recently become a parent or if you are having difficulty coping with being a parent in general.
  4. Avoid trigger points– It is important to remove yourself from any situations that may put you at risk of using drugs or alcohol. For example, parents should avoid visiting places where they used to get high, hanging out with their old friends who continue to abuse substances or doing activities related to substance use.
  5. Stay motivated– It is also important for parents to stay motivated and encouraged about their recovery process. By developing strong motivators, such as the desire to make a better life for their children or the realization of how much they have already accomplished in their recovery process, parents can stay encouraged and continue to do well in treatment.

Although it is not easy to ask for help and treatment, parents with substance abuse problems can turn their lives around by getting the right kind of support they need. By reaching out for guidance, receiving counselling, and staying motivated about recovery, parents can overcome addiction problems and continue to be positive examples in the lives of their children.

So, as Friedrich Froebel said, “Come, let us live with our children!” 

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